Monday, October 12, 2009


I will readily admit - I am befuddled about Pres. Obama getting the Nobel Peace Prize as are a large number of Americans. I always labored under the assumption that the prize was given for either past accomplishments, or for work done in advancing a goal that may not yet be accomplished. Giving the Nobel for prospective work that may be done is a new one. By the way - to the Nobel Committee: I promise I will have the Israelis and Palestinians declare eternal peace by 2012. Please make my travel arrangements for Oslo for 2010, check payable to "Jay Fisher."

Whether or not he deserves it is a debate beyond the scope of this blog. However, I want to add fuel to this fire.

One criticism Obama has received for getting the Nobel is that he is ramping up the war in Afghanistan, and not winding down the war in Iraq sufficiently fast. Let's talk about another war he has put himself into - the drug war.

Is the drug war a fair area to assess Obama for evaluating whether or not he deserves the Nobel? I argue it is. If you look at the subject of "domestic tranquility" as a standard for giving the prize, it is a fair category for consideration. Look at Lech Walesa and Solidarity for their work in promoting democracy within Poland, or Desmond Tutu and de Klerk for their efforts to end apartheid within South Africa. Both are domestic situations that had international ramifications which earned the respective parties the Peace Prize.

So, has Obama done anything about the "drug war" to change it into a "drug peace"? Sadly, I would say no. First, look at his words on raiding California medical marijuana pharmacies. Initially, he promised to end federal raids on the pharmacies - a promise that was quickly broken. One San Diego dispensary was raided as recently as September 9, 2009, with help from the federal DEA.

Second, while Obama has backed eliminating the disparities between crack and powder cocaine sentences, and there has been movement in the House on this subject, the disparities still exist. There has been no final vote on this bill in the House, and there appears to be nothing going on in the Senate on this topic. Considering how quickly Obama demanded from Congress literally trillions of dollars to support the economy and got it, the progress on the crack cocaine sentencing bill can be fairly described as "glacial" to "expectantly dead."

Third, consider all the shenanigans going on south of the border. Mexico is on the verge of a civil war fueled by drug money. Business in Colombia appears to be "business as usual." Cocaine cultivation in Peru appears to be increasing, with a slow resurgency of the Shining Path rebels and their madness. Evo Morales, a coca cultivator, is the president of Bolivia, saber rattling towards Washington and increasing international dissonance between the two countries.

Fourth is Afghanistan and sending American men and women to fight a war there and, in conjunction, fight the opium trade. Well, you can research the news on this. This exercise is becoming tiring....

We in the drug reform community are more prone to give Obama a pass on many topics because, and least in his words, he is radically different from the previous administration. However, we must remember: words are nice, but actions speak louder than words. While Obama may speak in a fashion that promises much potential, his actions fall far short. The Nobel Prize Committee should use this as a standard, and I argue should have considered this when evaluating the president for the Peace Prize. Any active participant in the drug reform movement has done more than the president to promote domestic tranquility by opposing the drug war, and would have been a better recipient of the award on that basis alone.


  1. Yeah I've read many, many reactions to the prize announcement, and there are plenty of different areas to touch on when trying to put it in proper perspective. But this is the first one I've read that even mentioned the drug war.

    I saw an interview not too long ago on Reason TV with Ryan Grim, author of This is Your Country on Drugs (which is a very interesting read to any drug policy fetishist). He made a great point: drug policy has long played the role of neglected step-child for ambitious politicians. Even the ones who take some sort of reform stance on the issue tend to ignore drug policy in the face of virtually any other political topic.

    It's not hard to understand from a political tactic viewpoint -- calling for a crackdown on this or that wins you votes, and staying silent can't hurt you. But actually moving forward with drug policy reform is a political wild card. The safe play is to leave it well enough alone and swing at softballs instead.

    But you're absolutely right -- the drug war is as relevant to the international state of peace as any conflict you care to name.

  2. Jay - thank you so much for posting this! A couple of quick points:

    1) The LEAP blog is now Digg friendly. Yay! Please vote up any of our posts that you think are Digg worthy. :-)

    2) One major accomplishment for President Obama - from the perspective of the committee in Oslo - was shutting down the U.S. missile defense system.

    3) Was this an attempt to limit U.S. foreign policy for the next couple of years? For example, after winning the peace prize, it might be more difficult for Obama to start bombing Iran next month.

    4) If the prize was going to be awarded to any U.S. Democrat, Bill Clinton would have been a better choice.

    4) Next year lets nominate Jack Cole.

  3. Was this an attempt to limit U.S. foreign policy for the next couple of years? For example, after winning the peace prize, it might be more difficult for Obama to start bombing Iran next month.

    I think that's a huge part of the decision. I read another article that likened it to the free pens that pharmaceutical reps give out to doctors; a relatively minor investment designed to inspire reciprocity down the line. Studies show that this is a powerful psychological maneuver.

    Instead of pushing Cialis on patients we're talking about bombing Iran, but it's the same basic phenomenon.

  4. Well I'm Lea and until I can figure out how to log on I'll post under Anonymous.
    The book you mentioned is interesting Rhayader and I'm only to chapter four right now.

    And there will be no peace as long as this ridiculous war on drugs continues. Obama did not deserve the Nobel Peace Prize and for those that think it's o.k. they're sorely misguided and corrupt.

  5. Hi Lea, welcome to the blog! I had the chance to meet Ryan Grim earlier this summer at Netroots Nation, although I haven't read his book yet. By the way, if anyone wants to write a short book review of "This is Your Country on Drugs" I would be happy to post it here on the blog. You can email it to me at

  6. @Lea: Yeah I thought it was a fascinating look at the interplay between human appetite for drugs and formal drug policy approaches. It wasn't so much advocating for any particular policy direction, but did a great job laying out the facts of human nature underlying whatever drug policy we choose.

    (Oh and the login thing -- the little drop-down box under the comment window lets you choose a bunch of different profiles you might have established online. If you don't have an account with any of those services, you should be able to use "Name/URL" and just enter in your information. Of course maybe you tried all of this and it isn't working.)

  7. Thank you so much for the swift reply. For me there is only one other thing in my life that's more important than ending the drug war. One could say I'm obsessed with it however I see it as a positive obsession because of all the innocent lives that are ruined.

    I tried the Name/URL and it wouldn't work. I registered a google account and that still didn't work although I see my picture up there on followers.

    Yes, I'm a dinosaur, don't even have a cell phone. If we weren't so remotely located I'd take a community course on internet blogging and know hows.

    Sincerely, Lea

  8. Jay, you raise many good points. At the risk of sounding like a conspiracy nut I have some ideas to toss out.

    Recall how G.W. Bush said we were "addicted to oil?"

    Recall how so many people, especially politicians, are addicted to "sending messages?"

    So here's the theory that's popped in my head recently. Our main "oil partners," i.e. those we buy so much oil from, are pressuring us to stay involved in Afghanistan/Pakistan in the vain attempt to wipe out terrorism. Why? Because those in the Middle East we buy so much oil from would rather it be the U.S. that's battling the "radical Muslims." I am sure this is why it also seems like we are always sticking our noses in other Middle Easter affairs as well.

    It's like a chain of marionettes, dozens in a line each controlling others, all trying to use each other "send messages" or not be seen as the originator of "the message."

    I feel like I'm about to write a tirade against my most recent hated saying of "sending messages." That and I'll just laugh to myself when people use that phrase, I'll imagine them inside a pup tent with a morse code telegraph pecking out messages, "beep beep dash dash dot, can't go outside and talk plainly, must send messages dash dot dash beep beep…"


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